I first came to know about Eileen Cook at the Surrey International Writers Conference. She was a panelist on… I want to say writing with humour, but this is two years ago and my memory is shot. Regardless, she was a panelist, and I was very impressed. As a speaker Eileen is funny, thoughtful and quick witted, so I was excited to read her books. YA is a genre I’m reading more and more of these days, and it’s authors like Eileen who make the genre perfect for adults as well!
Unraveling Isobel begins with our protagonist moving to live on a remote island with her mother, brand new stepfather, and ridiculously, temptingly good looking step brother. It’s her final year of high school and she’s ripped away from her best friend and thrown into this new family dynamic with a stepdad that she feels is not quite right. It’s almost as though he is trying to make her seem crazy. And she isn’t crazy, is she?
We find out early on that Isobel’s estranged father struggles with mental illness. Her mother associates the illness with his obsession with art, and as Isobel delves into her own artistry, it rubs her mother the wrong way.
This island is a small place where everyone knows everything about everyone. I personally know a little something about that. Isobel begins to hear rumblings of rumours relating her stepfamily. There was always something odd about that big old mansion. Secrets.
I won’t go much further into the story, because I’d hate to ruin it for you readers! I liked that Isobel wasn’t a whiney teenager. She struggles with change at this critical time in her life, questions herself and her family, but is also determined. The humour in the book is also fantastic, but I’d expect nothing less having met Eileen in person.
For me, Unraveling Isobel was very reminiscent of Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca, but the teen version! There is a secret to unfold. And there’s a thread of love in this story, which always makes Victoria happy. The house itself is a character and I adore books where setting plays such a pivotal role. I will definitely be picking up another book by Eileen.
5 Questions with Eileen Cook
1. Can you describe your journey to publication for us?
My journey dates back at least to second grade. My parents saved a homework assignment I did where we were supposed to practice writing sentences, but I made sure that all of mine came together as a story. The teacher wrote on the paper “I’m sure you’ll be an author someday.” Once I understood that someone actually wrote all the books I liked to read then I knew that is what I wanted to do. All through school there were notebooks full of over emotional poetry and some really bad stories. In college I got away from writing for awhile- I felt wanting to be an author was like saying that I wanted to be a Princess. A nice idea, but not a real job that any normal person could get. However, I never gave up writing on the side. There were always stories, half written novels and when all else failed- more bad poetry.
Eventually it occurred to me that no one was ever going to just offer me an opportunity to be a writer and if I really wanted to do it, I was going to have to take the leap and put in the work. At that point I began to seriously pursue writing, completing several manuscripts, taking writing classes, reading more critically, and pitching to various agents. In 2006 I signed with an agent, she sold my first book in 2007 and it came out in 2008. Since that point I haven’t looked back. I can think of nothing else I would rather do.
2. What characteristics of Isobel do you relate to, or not relate to?
Like Isobel, I felt like an outsider during my teen years. I was fortunate enough not to have some of her challenges, but we share that sense of isolation. A part of that isolation is driven by Isobel’s inability to trust herself. She wonders if what she sees is real or a figment of her imagination. One of the best things to happen to me was the development of confidence in myself. I enjoyed seeing Isobel start to move toward that same certainty of self.
3. I felt like this novel had a “Rebecca” feel to it. Where did you get the inspiration for this story?
I love that you noticed that! Rebecca and other gothic style novels have always been a favourite of mine. I always wanted to write my own big creepy house of the hill full of family secrets story and Unraveling Isobel was my chance.
4. What are the last 5 books you’ve read?
The Little Stranger by Waters (another gothic story!)
Nearly Gone by Cosimano
Station Eleven by St. John Mandel
Lola Carlyle’s 12 Step Romance by Youngman (This is an Advanced Reader Copy and not out yet- but YA readers are going to love it)
I am currently reading A Girl On A Train by Hawkins
5. What have you learned about yourself through writing?
I’ve learned so much! I discovered that my imagination is capable of some pretty wild ideas when I let it run wild. More importantly I learned that I am capable of writing a book. Novel writing can be a bit like running a marathon. There are parts in the beginning when it’s fun. Then there are other parts when it is horrid and you have no idea if you’ll make it, or why you even wanted to do it in the first place. It is easier to quit then to keep going. However, there are few things as wonderful as crossing the finishing line. Sometimes I am asked if it is easier now that I’ve been published and written several books. The truth is that it really isn’t easier, but it is more familiar. Now when I get to the point where all I want to do is quit I remember that I’ve been here before and that I know I am capable of finishing.
Like many things in life, the people who succeed in writing aren’t necessarily better than others, but they’re the ones who don’t give up.
Huge thank you to Eileen for participating in an interview on Girl Tries Life. Eileen has a brand new book out this week called Remember.